Tom Harkin takes aim at the filibuster
Finally, a post that's only tangentially about Joe Lieberman! In 1995, Sen. Tom Harkin joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman to end the modern filibuster. Lieberman and Harkin proposed a modification that would preserve the filibuster's protection of lengthy debate but destroy its evolution into a de facto supermajority requirement. Lieberman, of course, is now America's most prominent beneficiary of the filibuster. But Harkin is revisiting his old idea.
"I think, if anything, this health care debate is showing the dangers of unlimited filibuster," Harkin told reporters on Thursday. "I think there's a reason for slowing things down ... and getting the public aware of what's happening and maybe even to change public sentiment, but not to just absolutely stop something."
The plan he announced with Lieberman 14 years ago would have slowly scaled down the cloture threshold for legislation that had been filibustered. The first vote would require 60. If it failed to reach 60, debate would continue until a new vote, which would require 57, and so on until a simple majority could determine whether the measure lived or died.
"You could hold something up for maybe a month, but then, finally you'd come down to 51 votes and a majority would be able to pass," Harkin said. "I may revive that. I pushed it very hard at one time and then things kind of got a little better."
There's some evidence for that last line. Procedural reform rarely works, but attempts at procedural reform occasionally have the desired affect anyway. FDR's court-packing scheme, for instance, was turned back, but the Supreme Court stopped torching every element of the New Deal that came before the bench. Bill Frist's effort to end the filibuster on judicial nominees was similarly unsuccessful, but it was very successful at convincing Democrats to let more judicial nominees through.
Photo credit: By Joshua Roberts/Reuters
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